WASHINGTON — Documents made public Wednesday suggest U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson was involved in the controversial purchase of a $31,000 furniture set for his office suite, despite claims by an agency spokesman that he was not aware of it.
An August email obtained by the liberal watchdog group American Oversight shows a HUD staff member making reference to “the furniture the Secretary and Mrs. Carson picked out.” Another email shows a HUD staffer writing Carson’s wife, Candy Carson, to ask if she was available to meet with a designer about “bringing in new furniture.”
Carson, the celebrated former pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, has faced increased scrutiny for the $31,000 dining room set — ordered at a time when the agency was contemplating deep cuts to housing programs. He has also faced criticism for involving his wife and son in government business. He called on the department’s inspector general last month to investigate that involvement.
When news of the dining room set became public last week, a HUD spokesman said “Mrs. Carson and the secretary had no awareness that the table was being purchased.”
In response to the new documents, HUD spokesman Raphael Williams said that “When presented with options by professional staff, Mrs. Carson participated in the selection of specific styles.”
CNN has reported that the mahogany dining set was purchased from the Baltimore interior design firm Sebree and Associates.
The controversy surrounding the table is the latest in which a member of President Donald J. Trump’s cabinet has come under fire for his stewardship of public money.
Tom Price, a former secretary of health and human services, resigned last year after bipartisan criticism of his use of chartered flights.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has faced questions over helicopter trips and for the department’s decision to spend $139,000 to renovate three sets of doors in his office.
The inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs last month found “serious derelictions” in a $122,000 trip that VA Secretary David J. Shulkin and his wife took last year to Europe.